King Mohammed VI has sacked Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane.
On Wednesday, March 15, the palace issued a statement which read, in part: “His Majesty has decided to name another political figure from the Party of Justice and Development [PJD] as the new head of government. […] His Majesty will, very shortly, receive this person and will charge him or her with forming the new government.”
The statement makes reference to the political impasse that has dragged on since the general election in October: Mr Benkirane’s inability to bring together a majority coalition in Parliament with which to form a government.
His PJD had won the most votes but was well short of a majority, for which he needed to partner with the National Rally of Independents (RNI), led by tycoon and Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch, as well as the two other parties that formed the ruling coalition in Mr Benkirane’s previous term: the Party for Socialist Progress (PPS) and the Popular Movement (MP).
Mr Akhannouch, however, insisted on bringing with him the Constitutional Union (UC) and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), which Mr Benkirane did not want.
The royal palace’s communique is politely critical of the prime minister, “recalling that HM the king had exhorted, on several occasions, the designated head of government to accelerate the formation of the new government” and alluding to “the absence of signals that augur [the government’s] imminent formation,” but Mr Akhannouch hobbled Mr Benkirane on purpose.
It should not have been his place to coerce the leader of the biggest party in Parliament to form a coalition he did not want.
Mr Akhannouch is part of the old boys’ networks through which power is channelled in Morocco, and his party is made up of highly educated technocrats who tend not to look fondly on the Islamists of the PJD.
The whole blocking manoeuvre was calculated to get rid of Morocco’s first bearded prime minister and to cut the PJD down to size.
The new prime minister-designate (who will be a PJD member, as required by the constitution) will get the message and will agree to Mr Akhannouch’s big-tent coalition with the UC and the USFP.
While it is early to judge, this should be positive for policymaking, as there will be fewer forces outside government resisting its direction, and this will make negotiations over further reforms to the pensions system easier.
The downside risks are in the areas of social stability and possibly on security.
The Islamists will certainly interpret Mr Benkirane’s sacking the way we do: as a sign that the palace and the old guard are reasserting control at the expense of the democratically elected ruling party.
Their resentment will tend to find expression in wider perceptions of government illegitimacy, and may, in more extreme cases, contribute to young men’s decisions to join terrorist networks.